Fat Books & Thin Women

30 Day Book Meme, Day 26
August 27, 2011, 4:48 pm
Filed under: 30 Day Book Meme | Tags: , , , , ,

A book that changed your opinion about something:

My cooking used to be a sorry affair. When I first moved into a house, in college, I considered opening a jar of pasta sauce a major accomplishment, the result something that would impress any home cook. I ate cereal two meals a day and this seemed alright, since they were different types of cereal.

Then I became a vegetarian. (Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I read around this time, was a close contender for today’s book. Pollan lost out simply because his book didn’t change my views – it simply solidified them.) This meant, first, that I no longer had to prod fearfully at a piece of a chicken, debating if it were done, and second, that I had even less idea how to cook than I had had before.

Enter Mark Bittman and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. If you’re wondering how a cookbook can change your view on something, you’ve probably never been the sort of person who approaches the kitchen fearfully, skims past recipe after recipe because the spice list is too confusing or you’re not sure what a certain instruction means or you’re missing one ingredient. Bittman’s book isn’t just a great cookbook, though it is. It’s a book that changed the way I think about cooking: it woke me to the fact that if you’re missing ingredients or spices or don’t really know what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter. It taught me that if you put a bunch of delicious things in a pot together with some olive oil and some salt it will taste pretty good, and that if you make something that doesn’t taste good you don’t have to eat it – you just add stuff to the pot until it tastes better. The parts of my Peace Corps service that have been in a kitchen have built on Bittmann’s book, as I’ve realized it’s not just ingredients you can fudge but the tools. When recipes say you need a blender, an immersion blender, a mixer, a rolling pin, a whisk, you don’t need these things. Everything you make in the kitchen can be adjusted based on what you have, your skills, your tastes, and I owe Mark Bittman for helping me to realize that.

30 Day Book Meme:
Day 01 – The best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people have read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

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Michael Pollan’s book is definitely the one I would choose for this category. It utterly transformed the way I eat. (It didn’t stop me eating meat, though I don’t eat it much anymore. I’m lucky enough that I can get most of what little meat I do buy from the actual farm profiled in Pollan’s book).

Anyway, I have Bittman’s non-vegetarian cookbook, and I absolutely concur with everything you say. His recipes are so non-intimidating, and he gives such great advice about techniques and variations that it didn’t take me long to figure out my own ways to fudge if I was missing something or didn’t care for some aspect of a recipe.

Comment by Teresa

I love reading Bittman’s columns and blogs on food, but when he stopped doing his weekly recipe in the nytimes – man, that was a sad day for me. I love all the variations he prints, too. Working with his cookbook was the first time I realized my mom was right when she said I shouldn’t worry if I didn’t have every ingredient, and I loved realizing (thanks to Bittman and his countless variations on recipes) that by changing a few ingredients I could come up with completely different dishes.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

This is a really interesting choice. I’ll have to take a look at it sometime. I try to eat vegetarian at least a couple of times a week, but don’t plan to permanently switch over; I almost never eat red meat, but I don’t honestly thing I could commit to giving up chicken or pork.

It’s amazing how difficult it can be to find really good, simple recipes that don’t call for hard-to-find ingredients or aren’t completely tofu or seitan based, or feel like I’m repeating the same dish over and over again.

Comment by ohemgillie

Bittman’s cookbook was one of a few that I bought not long after I decided to go vegetarian. What I liked about it then, and still do, is that while he’s got a section that deals with tofu and seitan, it’s very small when compared to the sections on grains, beans, vegetables, fruits. I feel pretty comfortable with vegetarian cooking now, but I still avoid a lot of vegetarian cookbooks because they ask you to use ingredients that no average person has in their cupboards – you know, all weird types of flour and “milk” and very specific things that you’d have to spend a fortune to find (just for that one recipe). Bittman’s focus is so much more on the average person and what they have in their cupboard, and teaching you to use ingredients that you already use, just in different ways. I think having spent a few years cooking out of this cookbook helped me a lot once I started peace corps…there’s no tofu, no seitan, but I’d learned how to make complete meals without those things, or to replace tofu with some other protein source.

So, I know where you’re coming from re: the struggle to find simple recipes. I find that every time I buy a cookbook I end up comparing it Bittman’s vegetarian one, and they’re never as good. Maybe they’ve got photos of the food, they’re printed on glossy stock, but the recipes are never as easy or written with Bittman’s encouragement to cook with what you have and what you want to cook with.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

99% of my recipes are from online sources and even they run hot and cold. Recipes from blogs are usually a little better about not relying on unusual ingredients, but I do start to feel like, “Gosh, this is a LOT of pasta…”

Comment by ohemgillie

Yeah, I started relying on blogs for cookie recipes because I had better luck in finding ones with simple ingredients on them. Or maybe it’s just that bloggers are better about suggesting substitutions, since they’re devoting some time to writing about the baking, not just listing the recipe. Plus, blogs have better photos…easiest way for me to find a recipe my host family will like is to open up a few cookie recipes and let my little sister look at the photos till she finds one worth exclaiming over: “whoaaaa, ellen, how beautiful!”

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

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